5 What does the research say?
Any decrement in performance due to fluctuations in hormones is clearly a serious concern for athletes and their coaches. But is Eilish McColgan’s experience typical and most importantly how do fluctuations in hormones impact on performance?
Activity 5 Fluctuating hormones and optimising performance
Watch the video where Dr Emma Ross fromexplains the effect fluctuations in hormone levels have on the body, how they affect performance and how female athletes can use fluctuations in hormones to their advantage. Then answer the following questions:
- How does Emma account for the different experiences that females have during their menstrual cycle?
- What are your two key take away messages from this video?
- Hormones have receptor sites on cells across the body and affect the brain, gut, blood vessels and muscles causing changing physical and emotional symptoms. However, each female’s levels of hormones and their sensitivity to the effects of hormones will be different. This is the reason why females experience their cycle differently and experience different emotional and physical symptoms.
You may have different take away messages from these but you may have come up with the following.
Firstly, that the impact of fluctuations in hormones will not affect your physiological capacity to perform. This is in terms of markers of performance, such as strength, power and aerobic endurance that don’t actually change as hormones change across the cycle. However, a female’s performance may be affected by symptoms that affect them physically and emotionally, such as nausea, headaches, bloating and period or back pain.
Secondly, Emma advises that females improve their body literacy by tracking their cycles and understanding when hormones can make them more motivated and energetic and when their symptoms become challenging. This is important because if you can anticipate how you may be going to feel you can be proactive and make a plan for it.
She also talks about the importance of opening up the conversation between female athletes and their coaches and trainers, so that the athletes can explain how their symptoms affect them and what the coach can do to get the best out of them on any given day.
To back up what Emma says an analysis by McNulty et al. (2020) that combined the results of 51 studies concluded that exercise performance in women is not significantly affected by any phase of the menstrual cycle. However, there is very little good quality research conducted on how the menstrual cycle impacts on performance. As a result it has not yet been possible to develop evidence-based guidelines for optimising exercise performance for women considering the menstrual cycle (McNulty et al., 2020).